Sunlight, Forest Service to explain new uphill policy at Thursday open house
Sunlight Mountain Resort is within its rights as a forest leaseholder to restrict and charge for access onto the permitted area, according to a White River National Forest official.
The question came up in regards to Sunlight Mountain Resort’s decision this season to charge for uphill access onto the ski mountain during both operating hours and before and after hours.
Sunlight now charges non-pass holders and ticket purchasers $10 a day or $50 for a season to hike up the maintained ski trails. Previously, uphill users were required to sign up for Sunlight’s Uphill Passport program, but were not charged for access onto the mountain.
Sunlight will host an open house at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Glenwood Springs Library Community Room to explain and answer questions about the new policy. Ski area operations and safety officials will be on hand, as will Forest Service representatives.
According to Roger Poirier, spokesman for the White River National Forest in Glenwood Springs, lease holders — whether for a ski area, livestock grazing or mineral leasing — generally are not allowed to charge for entry and use of the public lands that they’re using,
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However, what’s different in the case of Sunlight and most ski areas, is that certain on-mountain and base-area amenities are privately owned and maintained, including ski lifts, groomed ski trails, parking lots, the lodge, restrooms, warming huts and snowmaking.
Ski areas may charge for access to permitted areas when such services are being used, or likely to be used, Poirier said. In the case of uphill hikers, all but the ski lifts are most likely being utilized by uphillers.
Sunlight holds a 40-year permit with USFS for an area that includes Compass Mountain, where the lift-served groomed and maintained ski runs are located.
The permit also includes the adjacent Babbish Gulch and Williams Peak to the west, which are popular with backcountry users. An uphill pass is not required to use those areas, as there are few amenities and little snow and trail maintenance, Sunlight Marketing and Sales Director Troy Hawks said.
“We’re definitely aware that the new uphill policy has generated a lot of interest and raised some questions,” Hawks said.
After meeting with Forest Service officials recently, Sunlight decided to have an open house to explain things and answer any questions among the uphill faithful.
“Obviously, we do share land, so we wanted to have the Forest Service there to help answer any questions about our operating area,” Hawks said.
Added Poirier, “We understand this is a change that can be difficult to accept, so we want to make sure people have an understanding.”
Hawks said the meeting should also help answer some of the nuances where private lands meet public lands, and public land regulations in general.
The base area at Sunlight, including the lower portion of Babbish Gulch, is privately owned. That includes the parking lots, the base lodge and related amenities, and the lower section of Midway to just above the Brettleberg Condominiums. The condos property is also private, but help by a separate owner.
Sunlight opened for the 2019-20 season on Dec. 6, and since then the reception from uphill users to the new pass program has been positive, Hawks said.
“We had several online sales, and people have been coming in to get their passes, including current season pass holders,” he said. Season pass holders do not have to pay extra for uphill access, but do need to display a special uphill armband.
Sunlight has also established a set “blue” and “green” uphill route. The blue route follows the traditional Tercero lift line to Sun King and Little Max. Skiers are required to stay to their far left.
The easier but longer green route goes up Ute on the west side of Sunlight. Skiers must stay to the far right on that route.
Hawks said Sunlight is taking an “enforcement light, education heavy” approach to informing people who are hiking up the mountain without a pass.
“If we do stop someone, it will be to educate them about our policy and enforce second.”
Sunlight uphill route maps and uphill passes will be available for sale at the Thursday meeting.
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